Capturing a Gigapixel-scale Timelapse Video

Ingredients

To set up a timelapse GigaPan, you'll need:

GigaPan Epic Pro (GigaPan Systems), with timelapse firmware installed

Digital camera compatible with the Epic Pro, capable of electronic trigger.
We have good experience with the Canon G10 and G11 cameras

Camera power supply to operate camera from 120VAC
The Canon ACK-DC50 (Amazon) adapter works for the Canon G10 and G11

Large flash cards (class 6 or higher for speed)
We have good experience with the 32GB Class 6 Transcend SDHC (Amazon), although the Class 10's should be faster and aren't much more expensive (amazon)

Tripod or other mounting scheme
Use a heavy tripod;  the Epic Pro weights about 7 lbs.  We like the Slik Pro 700DX ($140, B&H).
If you want to mount the GigaPan to a shelf or mounting bracket of some sort, consider taking the adjustable head from this tripod.  The head unscrews from the legs, and you can then mount the head with a simple bolt.  This will let you repoint the GigaPan as needed.

UPS (uinterruptable power supply)
We've used the APC ES 8 ($55, Amazon) and CyberPower CP850AVRLCD ($100, Amazon).  We think the CP850AVRLCD is worth the extra money for the helpful and reassuring status display.

Install timelapse firmware

Recommended settings for Canon G10/G11:

MENU (permanent settings):
MENU/first tab (camera)
  Digital Zoom: Off
  Review Info: Detailed
  IS Mode: Off

MENU/second tab (wrench and hammer)
  Auto Power Down: Off
  Display Off: 3 min

TOP DIALS:
  Dial exposure to -2/3 or -1 (left wheel)
  Select Aperture priority (Av on the top wheel)
  Select ISO 80, for daytime shots, or AUTO if might be shooting in low light

RING DIAL to right of screen:
  Dial aperture to F6.3 (higher F-stops do increase depth of field, but will reduce sharpness due to diffraction limitation)
  
FUNC (per setup settings): 

Set custom white balance
  - go to white balance, then select custom1
  - put white piece of paper in front of camera
  - press DISP to set the custom white balance

Resolution: superfine
Image size:  largest

FOCUS

Focus is a tricky issue.  If your entire panorama is far away, consider setting manual focus to infinity or close.  Otherwise, consider auto-focus if there are near and far items, and good contrast across the image.

Beware:  manual focus setting is reset any time the camera goes idle for 3 minutes (when the display turns off)

SAVE YOUR CAMERA SETTINGS TO C1:

Once you have the camera set the way you want, save the settings to C1 as follows:  MENU / first tab (camera) / Save Settings / Destination C1 / SET
If you selected manual focus, make sure MF displays after you save.  

Now dial the top knob to C1 and you'll get all the settings you saved.  Try power-cycling the camera to confirm your settings come back.  Note that while the MF is still lost after 3 minutes of idle time, the MF is still saved in C1, and you can recover by power-cycling your camera or turning to a different setting then back to C1.

Recommended settings for the GigaPan

Camera Setup menu
Remember to perform Camera Setup to match the field of view to your camera!

Options menu
- Time/Exposure:  experiment with this to make sure you capture all your shots.  Remember that low-light takes more time, as does auto-focus.
- Timelapse/Series:  select Timer, then program the time between start of each panorama
- Expert Options
  - Motors Rigid:  On  (keeps the device rigid in between panoramas)
  - Last Pic Hold:  On  (this keeps the shutter activated between panoramas, which tricks the camera into not timing out and losing the MF setting)

Saving your panorama
- After setting up your panorama with New Panorama and running through it once, you can save your panorama using Panorama Memory / Save Previous.  If you're in a hurry to save, you can cancel out of the first panorama before it finishes, but you do need to let it at least start shooting the panorama or the new settings won't be accepted as the "previous" panorama for saving.

When you perform Save Previous, the system will ask you to find a reference point.  Center your camera on something easy to reference, like the top of a telephone pole or a rock that's not going to move.  If nothing presents itself, consider driving a stake into the ground or installing or something similar.  An ideal reference is relatively far from the camera, so that small location changes for the gigapan won't cause a significant change in angle.  The reference need not be within the bounds of the panorama.  (If the camera's screen is fixed on the previous picture, try unplugging the capture cable temporarily.)

Consider taking a picture of the reference and putting the picture in a document describing your setup, in case you need to share the reference with someone else (or in case you might forget the reference in the future).

Starting timelapse with your saved panorama
Go to Panorama Memory / Recall.  Adjust the camera to point at your reference, and when you're ready to start the timelapse, press OK.  (If the camera's screen is fixed on a previous picture, try unplugging the capture cable temporarily, being sure to replace before pressing OK).

Because the panorama starts immediately, you should consider what time you'd like to start capture and be present at that starting time.  We might commonly shoot panoramas every hour, and be careful to start the unit at the top of a given hour during the day.

Considerations when selecting a good view

Because the GigaPan is not weatherproof, we generally set it up indoors, but often looking out a window to an outdoors subject.  

When shooting through a window, try to minimize internal reflections:
- Avoid light on the camera side of the window
- Avoid direct sunlight into the window if possible since this will brightly light the gigapan and camera and make bad internal reflections;  consider shooting towards the north (if in the northern hemisphere), or using a shade to prevent direct sunlight.

When possible, try to avoid taking pictures that are backlit or include part sky and part subject;  automatic exposure will have a tricky time with these and probably overexpose the sky and underexpose your subject.  Consider a high vantage point, looking down.
 
When shooting primarily downwards, consider tilting the mount holding the gigapan so that the gigapan's "equator" (the plane of pan rotation when the camera is tilted neither up nor down) is roughly centered on the subject.  This will keep the average gigapan tilt close to the equator, and prevent distortions at extreme tilts from projecting the spherical world the gigapan sees onto the planar image that the website displays.

Swapping cards

When swapping cards in the camera, we usually flip the write-protect tab to "locked" to denote that the card has data on it.  You'll need to unlock the card of course when you move the images from the card to your computer, but in the meantime it will help prevent you from inadvertently putting a full card back into your timelapse setup.

The Canon G10/G11 cameras unfortunately must be removed from the GigaPan in order to remove the SDHC card they carry.  When placing the camera back on, it probably won't be perfectly aligned.  

We normally solve the alignment problem by canceling the timelapse and restarting it using Panorama Memory / Recall.  On the plus side, this lets you recalibrate the unit by finding the reference point.  On the minus side, it requires that you swap cards around the time you want to capture, since restarting will immediately capture the next panorama in the series.  (Be sure to watch this first panorama;  make sure that the camera is set properly and that it has the cable properly attached and is actually taking pictures).

Another solution to the alignment problem which we've experimented with is adding some epoxy to the shoe to conform to (but not attach to) the camera's body.  Done properly this can positively set the orientation of the camera when screwed down onto the shoe.  This should allow the camera to be replaced without the need to recalibrate the gigapan, thus not requiring to cancel out of the panorama, so should let you replace the card at any time between shots.  One downside to this approach is that you might not be present to see the next panorama and cannot confirm that everything is working properly (e.g. cable attached).

The 15 megapixel Canon G10 at maximum resolution will store somewhere between 4500 and 5000 images on a 32GB SDHC card.  The 11 megapixel Canon G11 at maximum resolution will store in excess of 10000 images on a 32GB SDHC card.

Failure Modes

Missing pictures:  Be sure to check your setup early on for missing pictures.  Commonly the camera takes more time when automatically focusing, and also in low-light situations.  If you want to capture at night or in low-light situations, consider testing a full 24 hours to confirm everything will work.  If you intend to shoot with manual focus and your timings assume this, be extra careful when restarting the unit that the camera says MF.  Go to Options / Time/Exposure to adjust the time per picture to make sure there's enough time for each picture to be captured.

Loss of power:  With the battery installed and an external power supply, the GigaPan itself acts a bit like a laptop and will continue to operate without hiccup in the face of occasional power outage.  But the Canon G10/G11 cameras unfortunately will turn off and not turn back on after power comes back.  Our solution has been to use a UPS (see above for a recommended model).

Forgetting to reinstall the camera trigger cable:  You may need to remove the camera trigger cable to remove the camera and replace the card, or just to see the screen change when recalling the stored panorama.  Remember to put the cable back.  It's good to watch the next panorama after you swap cards

Accidentally putting a full card back in the camera:  Right when you turn the camera on after installing a card, observe the number of pictures left on the card.  The G10/G11 can't show more than 9999.  You'll probably see 9999 for a G11 with an empty 32GB card, and between 4500 and 5000 for a G10 with an empty 32GB card.  See above about using the write-protect tab to help keep you from doing this.

Focus:  If you intend to shoot with manual focus, remember that the camera loses this setting after 3 minutes of being idle.  Be sure to turn on Expert Options / Last pic hold so that the GigaPan will keep the shutter activated between panoramas and not let the camera time out.  Be sure though when you're setting up the camera that you don't let it time out, or if you do that you power-cycle the camera just before reconnecting the shutter cable when you've aligned it to the reference point.

Corrupt card:  We've once had a card become unreadable.

Losing the card:  Cards are tiny.  I keep them in a small plastic bag inside my wallet.  Try to copy them to the computer as soon as you're able.